Just because parsnips are related to carrots doesn’t mean they can go in the kids’ lunches or on a crudité platter. It’s only after they have been thoroughly cooked that the parsnip’s true character comes to the fore. Winter is their peak time. Parsnips have a very long growing season (3-4 months) and will really only develop their sweet, rich, nutty flavour after a frost or a long period in cold storage. Look for smooth unblemished skin and choose medium sized parsnips. If too big, you run the risk of hard woody cores with spongy outer flesh and if too small, you won’t be left with much after peeling.
The inimitable Jane Grigson advises not peeling them at all, but unless you are lucky enough to find dry, pristine parsnips not already packaged in plastic, the terrible habit many supermarkets have of spraying everything indiscriminately makes peeling necessary. I have long made a lovely pureed soup with carrots, parsnips and white wine, but I’ve recently switched the carrots out for sautéed pears and the result is lovely. If you’re concerned about the alcohol (almost all of it cooks off), don’t use it at all and increase the stock to suit.
Parsnip and Pear Soup
- 4-5 medium sized parsnips
- 2 tbsp butter
- ½ cup chopped shallots
- ½ tsp salt
- 3-4 peeled and cored pears
- Lemon juice
- Ground coriander
- 6 cup chicken stock
- 1 cup white wine
- ½ cup heavy cream
- Crème fraiche garnish
- Sprig of chervil garnish
- Peel, trim and coarsely chop parsnips.
- Saute the parsnips in butter with shallots and salt for about 10 minutes.
- Roughly chop pears and continue to cook over medium heat, adding a bit more butter, a generous squeeze of lemon juice and a pinch of ground coriander.
- Add this mixture to chicken stock and white wine.
- Bring it up to a boil, then reduce the heat to a slow simmer and cook until parsnips are soft.
- Remove from the heat and puree with a hand-held blender, being careful of the hot liquid. (A regular blender can be used, of course, but puree in batches.)
- Check for seasoning, especially salt, and add in heavy cream.
- Continue on low heat for another 10 minutes.
- Swirl a bit of crème fraiche on the top of the ladled soup and garnish with a sprig of chervil to serve.